I returned home from Sampson County, North Carolina last Thursday with three deer in the coffin cooler. A doe and cowhorn spike were felled in the normal fashion on the final evening, blessedly topping off the Igloo. The other deer, though – well, that was a doozy.
That Monday morning I invited Dirty J to hunt with me in the stand I had drawn, the same stand from which I got the two bucks last year. It was Dirty’s birthday, and we don’t hunt together much anymore. Well, soon after legal light a doe bailed into the field to my right followed by a buck. We glassed him and determined he was a shooter – easily had antler an inch or so beyond the ears. At under 100 yards, it was Dirty’s chip shot to make.
Problem was, the deer came from downwind and got spooky. He pranced to the middle of the field as I was imploring Dirty to shoot. By the time the buck came to a rest he was directly between the stand and the fledgling sunrise, and there was apparently just enough glare in the scope to prohibit a shot. The buck kept on moving away towards the creek bottom on the opposite side of the field.
Up until this point, my .300 Win. Mag. had been leaning against the corner of the stand. I slid a round in the chamber, heaved the heavy-barreled Savage, and settled into a solid rest. By the time I picked up on the deer, he was at the farthest edge of the field, 300 – 350 yards, and I told Dirty I had the shot. Standing in the early morning dark of the far treeline, I could barely make out the outline of his white tail. When I thought I had him adequately squared up for a broadside shot, that 180-grain XP3 boomed across the open with an audible whack! when it hit the target. Dirty said he saw the buck kick up and run nose down into the woods.
It was still early so we held tight and discussed what had happened. We had the deer marked well where he went into the woods and were excited to put hands on antlers. I did mention how odd it was that the buck held up on the edge and didn’t enter the woods after being spooked. We watched a young doe piddle around a feeder for a while before walking down to check things out.
We found the trail easy enough and the buck shortly after. I called up to Dirty, who had beaten me to the animal, to give me a tine report. He called back, “It’s a spike!”
I trotted up, in complete disbelief, and sure enough, it was a younger deer with a whole 2 inches of antler poking off his head.
I was stunned. We went through all kinds of ludicrous scenarios: someone else had shot the deer the night before, maybe a poacher or farmer. But we would have heard the shot from camp since you can’t hunt on Sundays. Plus, this was a fresh trail, not one that had sat over night. We walked past the deer looking to see if the blood trail continued as if the buck I intended to shoot ran past this one. It took at least 15 minutes to come to terms with the fact that I had downed this deer. There was no denying the evidence.
So what happened? Well, there’s no question the original buck was a different animal. We put binos on him and agreed he was a shooter well before anyone raised a rifle. Best we figured was the buck did in fact go into the woods, and this was a different deer we had not seen prior. I simply lost track of the big one in the shuffle of rifles and can’t say what Dirty was doing in the interim. The dead deer had acted all spooky before the shot leading me to believe he was the bigger one. The bigger one probably boogered him, though, making him all antsy. At the distance and the dark – and we weren’t dealing with a 150-class buck to begin with – I simply failed to notice the antlers, concentrating more on a steady shot behind the shoulder.
There was another possibility that I knew those in camp would go for – it was all BS, and we had buck fever. Hand to Bible, that was not the case. I’m still stupefied as I write this but certainly pleased to have the venison. And it was the longest shot – easily – I’ve made on a deer. The three longest shots I’ve made have now come from that stand.
So that cross-up was a first for me, but it was that kind of week. Camp Rookie Alex shot a 7-pt in an antler, concussing him enough that Alex was able to get a second shot and ground him. Can’t say I’ve seen that before. Darin, uncharacteristically, shot a button buck. Gene, even more uncharacteristically, failed to check his zero before that morning’s hunt and promptly missed a nice buck. His pattern was 7-inches off.
Tim Long with a coastal North Carolina 8pt.
Others did it right. Don killed a dark 6-point, and Tim shot a pretty 8-pt. Several does were added to the pot. A couple other smaller bucks were taken.
I did see one monster buck Tuesday morning. I was overlooking a cut cornfield while sitting in a Porta-Potty stand when a big ol’ boy with tall tines and lots of them came boiling into the open from the highway at a considerable distance. Something had spooked him because he was getting after it. At his closest point, he may have been 250 yards. But with him moving too fast, at that distance, and one screw-up under my belt already, I was in no mood to start slinging lead and possibly wounding him.
Plus, as much as I love big bucks, the deer hunting on this trip is always incidental to the friendships around that camp. We’ve been hunting together a long time but only see one another once or twice a year anymore. Thankful we can all still make this trip. It snowed Tuesday night which made it hard to get out of bed Wednesday morning. Even having been in Montana the week before, that was the coldest I’d been in a while, certainly unexpected for coastal North Carolina.
Already looking forward to next year and to seeing everyone again. Maybe I’ll catch up with one of those bigger bucks then. If not, it’s always a good hunt.